On Thursday October 1, federal election candidates for the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon riding answered written questions from students at the Student Union Building (SUB) at the UFV Abbotsford campus. Green Party of Canada candidate Arthur Green, independent candidate Wyatt Scott, Liberal Party candidate Jati Sidhu, and Marxist-Leninist Party candidate Elaine Wismer participated at the debate.
Conservative candidate Brad Vis and New Democratic Party candidate Dennis Adamson were not present.
Green: First of all, I would like to thank everyone here, especially the students and UFV. I am compelled to do what I can to turn this madness around — to rebuild an economy that is built on new and renewable energy sources, to cleanse the world and see we open the greatest economic catalyst Canada and the world will ever know: an economy constructed on consolation, created by not only caring about the environment, but each other. We are our last hope. If we don’t act immediately, our futures are dim. If we don’t stop polluting and warming the earth long before 2050, it will send us to certain doom.
Scott: I think if you ask me where I sit on the spectrum, I have Conservative, I have Liberal, I have Socialist ideology. I would say I am well-rounded in my political perspective. I don’t want to be called big blue, big red, big orange. So what I WWWbring to the table is something a little different, something that represents a community rather than a party, rather than towing party lines and doing what a “whip,” or leader, tells you to do.
Sidhu: Before I went into politics I was a farmer, entrepreneur, and I was fortunate enough to build a successful business that provided for me and my family. I volunteered many hours into this riding, starting with the board of governors at UFV … I’m pretty sure I made the motion to build this building (SUB) when I was on the board. I have always wanted to give back to make things better. Right now, a lot of Canadians are looking for change and direction and a change in leadership that will make things better.
Wismer: The Marxist-Leninist Party has its origins in the student union movement in the 1960s and the other mass movements of the day. The Marxist-Leninist Party stands for nation-building rather than nation-wrecking. The public right has attained a monopoly right. Now the Harper government has shown itself to be anti-public education and they’ve characterized teachers as acting in their own interests better than the common interest. There’s a struggle with students and teachers and whoever is elected in this riding should unite to fight against the monopoly right.
Students face a growing debt load, according to a number of studies are graduating with more debt than students from previous generations, and that debt is taking longer to pay off and is representing a larger portion of their income. It also means that today’s youth need to wait longer after they graduate to be full economic participants and enter the real estate market. What will each of you do at the federal to combat growing student debts?
Green: The Green Party platform off the bat proposes free tuition. I believe this will happen by 2020, if not sooner. We are also proposing forgiving large student loans, because we believe this is causing a backload on students when they are trying to get ahead and just out of school. This will also give an opportunity for poorer students to have a shot at education. I don’t know if any of the rest of you have ever been to the car park at UBC, but if you ever take a tour of it you’ll see that it’s full of Porsches, Jags, BMWs, and Mercedes, and that the average student just can’t afford to go to UBC. So this would equal the playing field so it’s not a university just for rich people. We’re also proposing a national apprenticeship program to work in conjunction with high schools throughout the province.
Scott: I am in favour of universal post-secondary education absolutely and completely. I think that in a nation as wealthy as Canada, with the great amount of resources, and our population being tiny in comparison per capita, it’s kind of a given. I always challenge people and say, “Go out and ask your politician, what’s the greatest resource in Canada,” and 99 per cent of the time they say something silly like oil, or water, or trees, but the greatest resource we have in this country is the people, and that’s what we need to invest in. We have to look at investing within the school system; I fully support free universal post secondary.
Sidhu: I believe in education, which was part of the reasons I started with the board at UFV. I believe in easy access for students to get their education and secondly, why students go to university is to get better jobs so when they come out we need to give them job opportunities ASAP. We do have forgiveness programs, but my thinking is if students come out and get better jobs, it makes it easier for them to pay their student loan. The Liberal Party of Canada is looking to help students, putting $750 million in funding to increase training programs every year. Twenty-five million in training facilities so students can work and study at the same time. I believe in apprenticeship through the federal infrastructure program.
Wismer: I don’t believe anyone should be saddled with a great deal of personal debt and I don’t believe students should have to provide a great deal of money for education, it should be free. However, I’m not about to make any election promises because I think it is unfair to sell illusions in people’s minds that any of us can go off to Ottawa and work magic there. The fact is that social change and social progress has only happened through mass action, whereas there may be some candidates elected who have well intentions, it’ll be up to students and teachers as well to organize a movement in defence of what your needs are.
Recently, figures revealed that Canada’s economy was in a recession. Whether we accept the view of the government or the opposition, that means for the year we are either in a mild recession or an anemic recovery. Neither of those will move along Canada’s unemployment rate that is stuck at seven per cent or on the youth unemployment rate that is nearly 14 per cent. Where does your party stand on unemployment, and youth unemployment in general?
Wismer: Again, dealing with any of the issues is standing up against monopoly right. Formulating a people’s agenda that deals with all the specific problems and which is also an anti-war agenda, because it would be a pretty sad thing for people seeking employment to join the armed forces and go and attack other peoples’ countries in order to have a job. The possibility is for some manoeuvring, and with enough support and opposition to the monopoly agenda, money directed into developing Canadian industry. But there is enormous potential for creativity on ways to create employment.
Sidhu: I am a strong believer in co-op focus programs we need to look into focus in 2025, where students get training and get paid at the same time, which has benefits for both the employers and the students. As I said earlier, we are spending $750 million for training purposes; we are spending another $25 million in training facilities under the new infrastructure program. I’m a strong believer in creating those conditions where students get educated then go to work and work for the economy.
Scott: I think in particular the green sector in B.C. is lagging behind. There’s going to be a major boom for the world in general, so if we can localize our economy it’s going to benefit us best. There’s going to be offshoots of that, the green sector is going to have to be funded by the fossil fuels, but we need to start that transition very quickly. We have an initiative in Mission where we’ve attracted some new Agri-tech firms who are doing some incredible measures in terms of growth. They are employing people and looking at growing right away. That will put the trades back to work as well, building the green sector, so I think British Columbians in general need to focus on driving the green sector.
Green: This stems back to education as well, the fact the Green Party are imposing free tuition fees and forgiving student loans sets up our future generation to acquire the skills they’ll need to carry on in the future. One of our main platforms is to establish a national apprentiship program to work in conjunction with the provincial education systems. So I think there’s great opportunity in the nurture for youth unemployment, but the current system has an agenda set on giving away our natural resources and not worrying about the future of our younger generation.
In Canada we don’t vote directly for the prime minster, instead we vote for members of parliament, but in reality many candidates decide whom to vote for based on their opinions of the leaders of that candidates party. To each to you, why is your leader the best choice for prime minister?
Green: There’s no doubt that Elizabeth May is by far the best parliamentarian in the Federal government. For four years in a row she has been given the Parliamentarian of the Year award. Her policies are clear and directly influential for all Canadians, they don’t just rely on money. One of our main issues in the green party is electoral reform. We need proportional representation in this country. A lot of your votes, 40 per cent of the people that voted, their ballot didn’t count. If we had proportional representation, each vote would count. So if 12 per cent of the population voted for Greens, Greens would get 12 per cent of the representative. By far, Elizabeth May is the greatest politician in Canadian politics today, and with proportional representation we can repeat that many times over.
Scott: When you have an independent representative in the House of Commons, they are accountable to the community. I always say if, for example, “Mr. Smith had a problem getting his milk to market, he went to his MP, his MP sat down with the whole community, they said they needed funding, he went back to Ottawa and said we need a little funding to form this co-op to get our resource to the market,” and that’s what they would do. An independent is accountable to the community, not the party. So when you hear all these lies from a party leader, we know these will never come to fruition. I don’t promise a single thing, I just promise if you support me in October I will fight for my community and my country.
Sidhu: Well, Justin Trudeau has a vision, has a drive, and has a passion. He was elected seven years ago as a member of parliament; his father was PM when he was nine. He saw his father’s campaign and from then on he had a passion. He had a passion to serve all Canadians, not only the wealthy few. There are not many leaders that stand up on the eve of election night and say, “You know what, I’m going to tax wealthy Canadians 1 per cent and I’m going to give the rest of the 99 per cent a 7 per cent tax break. That’s leadership, that’s vision. We need to grow together the way we’re seen at the world level, we need to keep that image.
Wismer: The Marxist-Leninist party has put the number one item on their agenda as democratic renewal. The issue is who decides, there are a great many of problems, but who is going to decide how Canada is going to be shaped in the future. We think that what has been missing all along since the beginning of Canada is the participation of the people, the ability for people to work out their ideas for how things should be. Everyone has ideas for how Canada should be, but a great many people are so discouraged with the political system and the political parties that they have given up even trying to say what’s on their minds or even voting. So the number one issue is democratic renewal. How Canada can participate in changing so everyone can participate, so everyone can have their views heard.
A number of candidates have been motivated to vote in this election simply to see a change in government, and some want to see two governments working together. Do you support that?
Wimer: The Conservative and Liberal parties are committed to the monopolies of large financial institutions, but in this riding and in this election there are poor people who you could call people’s candidates, and I would like to see the candidates all working very closely with people in their ridings.
Sidhu: For the last four years the Harper government has squandered the trust of Canadian people. They have governed without consent and transparency. They have muzzled our scientists, and they bullied the oppressed. It’s a government of incompetency; our economy’s shrinking and our environment suffers. The Liberal Party has a plan that will make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
Scott: Why don’t the progressive parties work together more to get the Harper government out? Well, that’s a great question, isn’t it? When you elect a party politician to the floor and the bill comes up, he is told how to vote by the leader of the party. It doesn’t necessarily benefit the community, the constituency that we live in, and so I think that if we look at an independent, they really have to go out and they have to meet the entire community, and what they build is a reflection of what that community needs or wants. So I think that the parties definitely need to start working together a bit more.
Green: The Green Party of Canada is the only federal party that is not “whipped.” We vote for the constituents. If the constituents challenge our party line, we go with the constituents. We have the best leader in Canada.
Wismer: I encourage people to take the initiative for themselves and don’t rely on heroes. It’s wonderful that people are watching the election and electing people to parliament, but again it’s mass action that changes history, and people need to study things and figure out how things work so that they can make up and formulate their own ideas about how things should be and what possibilities there are, and to stick up for those things.
Sidhu: When elected, I’d like to see grassroots concerns and issues so I can take it down to Ottawa for discussion. Under Stephen Harper we’ve seen a shrinking community for working Canadians. The first thing I see when I talk to people is that their children will inherit much worse jobs. The gap between haves and have-nots is widening. The Liberal Party has a plan that will make a difference in the lives of Canadians.
Scott: Thank you very much for coming out, you guys. Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon is huge, 25 different bands, a very diverse demographic that makes it up. It’s unique in a lot of ways. I think that whoever does go on to Ottawa is going to represent their community very well. I personally think that Canada has a great political development ahead of it. I think we’re very close to a progressive jump. I have faith in fellow Canadians and fellow human beings that we’re close to something very good.
Green: Social justice. Participatory justice. Ecological wisdom. Respect for diversity. Non-violence. Sustainability. These are the six principles of the Green Party of Canada. These are not just words. These are the principles that separate us from every other political party around the world. It’s because of those six principles that we are a real alternative.
Jen Martel, Abbotsford riding NDP candidate: I’m standing in for Dennis, he’s really sorry that he couldn’t be here. He sends his regrets and recognizes a really important demographic that I fall into, and that’s young voters. He’s used to being the voice from his area. We want to stand up for every Canadian and not just the elite class. I hope you can help us rebuild Canada.
With files from Megan Lambert.